I’m a huge fan of the Campaign podcast, and it’s turned me on to Fantasy Flight Games’s Star Wars rules. I thought it would be fun to try to reskin/hack it into a weird fantasy game along the lines of Jack Vance’s Dying Earth. Here’s the document as it stands at the moment.
The whole thing is an exercise in rules-as-worldbuilding. I didn’t want to write any extended exposition; I wanted the rules to indicate the world, and I wanted the prose of the rules to hint at tone. Here’s the introduction, which is the only bit of extended fluff in the book:
4000 years ago, the Eld covered the red moon like ants on a nest. They watched as the planet they orbited suddenly burst with mountains and became swamped with sickly mist. They had thought it was a dead world.
3000 years ago, the Eld houses saw the first omens that presaged the dissolution of their moon. They dropped magically engineered vassals down to the misty planet below, directing them to scour the world for resources to reinforce their frail moon. They called the planet Mine.
2000 years ago, half of the Eld moon crumbled and trailed off across the sky. Tides spasmodically drenched the planet. Many of the Elds’ servants became masterless, their taskmasters flung dead into space. Others rebelled. The Eld fought violently against the revolts and redoubled the mining efforts.
1000 years ago, the last of the Eld descended onto Mine, calling their faithful servants into Three Cities that they built. The moon burst open, dropping steaming chunks of lunar flesh onto the land below.
Today, the world is as dangerous as ever. Inside the Three Cities, Eld interbreed and dream of their lost kingdoms. In the wilderness that covers the rest of the world, poisonous mist blows in migratory storms, mutated beasts stalk petrified forests, and bands of bloodthirsty rebels stalk the timid roads.
[Moon Eld as genetic engineers swiped from Hill Cantons.]
Here’s an excerpt from the races.
Physiology: Your body has no rhythm of blood or breath. Your veins are filled with sludge. You are paler than you should be. You probably smell bad.
Society: Some corpses strive to resemble life. Others take pride in their deathiness.
Home: The dark places are kind. Cemeteries remind you that things could be worse. But all corpses need something from the living—blood, brains, warmth, air—so they can’t stray too far.
Language: In addition to the language you spoke in life, all corpses speak the groaning, cold tongue of the dead.
Adventuring: Maybe you want to be restored to life. Or maybe you want to preserve your rot with blessed bandages, cursed phylacteries, or womb-coffins. Or perhaps you desire to sup essence only from the cruelest of the living.
Physiology: You are leftover rubbish, goop, and alchemical mistakes. Your oozing body digests the garbage it encounters, rendering it into the monochromatic slime your body is made up of.
Society: Originally engineered as cleaning devices by the Eld, Detritans rarely create societies of their own. Instead, you are a cleaner or sin-eater in the cities of others.
Home: Garbage cans, refuse heaps, and the gutters where slop buckets get dumped.
Language: You speak the language of the city you work in. Additionally, Detritan body language is unnatural and learned. They are limited to 8 facial expressions and 8 postures.
Adventuring: The garbage is always goopier on the other side of the wall. Also, there are places in the wilds where scavenging is natural and valued. Maybe you can find a place in a nicer ecosystem.
Physiology: You are descended from a race of chthonic root people engineered by the Eld to find treasures in the earth. You’re short, probably not over 5 feet, but you’re quick. Your arms hang down to the ground, and you smell of spices.
Society: Mandrakes respect their elders. Young mandrakes fulfill the wishes of the old, running errands for the geriatric roots who are swollen huge and grown into the dirt.
Home: Dank tunnels run throughout the world. These are the homes of the mandrakes. Some tunnels are closer to the surface, and the mandrakes that live there sprout green in the spring. Other tunnels are deep and wet, and the root people there are closed-eyed and white.
Language: You speak a thickly accented Eldish.
Adventuring: Elder mandrakes may send you on a great quest to the other side of the world. Or perhaps you are tired of regimented life underground and seek to escape the hegemony of the great roots.
Physiology: You are pale and weak. Your species lacks genetic diversity, and you are sustained by eldritch mixtures.
Society: Once, your kind ruled the world from their immaculate moon. Now you are down amidst the rejected life forms. They hate you, and so you must fight to survive. Power is all that matters.
Home: If you can find a secure place, do so. Make it safe. Keep out the mutants.
Language: You speak flawless Eld.
Adventuring: Perhaps your family was stained by imperfection and you were driven to leave. Or maybe you can find a way to the hidden moon.
Physiology: Originally blank templates created by the Eld to be modified for a variety of purposes, humans come in a range of colors and body shapes. You may choose.
Society: Perhaps you escaped from an alchemical vat, were released by a fleeing Eld, or were lost in transit. You travel the world seeking a purpose.
Home: Wherever you lay your head.
Language: You slowly learn the language of your creators, the Eld.
Adventuring: Who are you? Why are you here? What is the point of life?
Physiology: You are an unliving being created by another and magically animated. They come in an infinite range, but there are some common blueprints.
• Clockwork: Made of metal, driven by coiled springs and burning steam. They may be guards or entertainment.
• Scarecrow: Wood and cloth and a terrifying visage. Keeping the crops safe may involve standing watch, helping with the planting, and occasional combat.
• Golem: Stone soldiers of truth created in times of distress.
Society: Are you in proud service to your master? Or are you on the run? Can Toys make a place of their own?
Language: Whatever they were taught by their masters.
Adventuring: You may be working for a master or running away from one. Beware, though, of hunters who seek to claim independent Toys.
Physiology: You’re big in all dimensions. Tall, thick, exaggerated. The skin of ogres comes in all the colors of the swamp: bone white, bark brown, muck black, leaf green. You have a symbiotic relationship with an algae that lives on your skin. You only eat meat. Your nostrils are between your eyes.
Society: Ogres live in small covens. They claim to be native to the world, but the Eld dispute this claim, saying that ogres are an early attempt at the process that eventually resulted in Detritans.
Home: Your people live in swamps, resting up to 80% of the day with only their eyes and nostrils above the water. Some build longhouses out of sod and petrified wood.
Language: You know the Ogre language, and you probably speak Eld.
Adventuring: You might be on your walkabout that Ogres go on every ten years. Perhaps your swamp is endangered—drying up—and you’re looking for the reason why.
Physiology: You’re covered in scales. You might have legs—or a tail instead. Or you might have both. You’re cold-blooded since your people were engineered for warm climates.
Society: Reptilians usually live alone, meeting only to mate.
Home: You have a territory that is yours. Other Reptilians are threats to that territory unless they introduce themselves to you and swear not to challenge your authority.
Language: You speak the Eld tongue, but the language area of your brain is underdeveloped, so you speak slowly.
Adventuring: You may be seeking a mate. You might be trying to expand your territory or establish new territory.
Physiology: You are only partly corporeal. When you manifest, materials are drawn around, forming a shell that allows you to interact with the physical world.
Society: Spirits come from many backgrounds: ghosts of the deceased, nature spirits from trees or rivers, or essences of good or evil. Some spirits recognize others and form hierarchies. Others are loners.
Home: Some spirits are bound to certain objects or places and always return there. Others live in imitation of corporeal beings.
Language: Spirits know the tongue of the Eld from long discourse with them. They also speak languages that only their kin know.
Adventuring: Some spirits are summoned and sent on tasks. Others work to further the philosophy of their kind. Some seek to run from those philosophies. Some are merely lustful for bodily experiences.